In a recent issue of Právo, both acting Social Democrats (ČSSD) chairman Bohuslav Sobotka and his rival Michal Hašek admitted that the party would like early elections to the Chamber of Deputies to take place as early as autumn 2012 — to coincide with the elections to the regional councils and one third of the Senate.
Sobotka and Hašek — the South Moravia Regional Administrator and Chairman of the Association of the Regions of the Czech Republic — claim that shortening the term of office of the Nečas government would be in the country’s best interest and would save the state budget at least a billion crowns. The two men will vie for the ČSSD leadership at its congress from March 18–19 in Brno (Although Hašek is the popular choice, the party elite favor Sobotka).
No pre-fight jitters
The Social Democrats would also save money should elections be held so early. The ČSSD could become a governing party, gain an even stronger position in the Senate and maintain its regional administrators and other posts in the regions. This calculus, however, has a catch. Nečas’s government coalition would have to “historically discredit” themselves so quickly that those who voted for them last May would write them off already by autumn 2012, and the ČSSD would have its victory in the early elections more or less assured in advance.
Yet, following the experience with the hasty knocking down of the Topolánek government, realistically thinking Social Democrats believe the current government should be afforded four whole years so that it can discredit itself totally, making the 2014 elections a “cinch” for the ČSSD to win. That’s why they don’t take Sobotka’ and Hašek’s calls for early elections seriously. Many ČSSD members are not overly concerned who wins this weekend’s duel: It’s the 2014 elections that truly matter.
Some don’t take the upcoming battle for ČSSD leadership at its Brno party congress this Friday and Saturday seriously either. Why? Regional and Senate elections will take place in autumn 2012; these are, however, organized by the management of the ČSSD’s regional organizations, not by the Lidový dům headquarters. Of crucial importance will only be the congress in the spring of 2013 since whoever is elected ČSSD chairman there will be the party’s candidate for prime minister. This is why many are not overly concerned about the outcome of the Sobotka–Hašek duel.
Nevertheless, a duel it will be. And its result will reflect in the content and style of the ČSSD’s policy over the next two years. Neither Sobotka nor Hašek is open to forming a government in cooperation with the unreformed Communists (KSČM). Their opinions on other important matters differ. Both men claim that the ČSSD must remain a left-wing party promoting social solidarity. But with Sobotka at the helm, it would be emphatically and vehemently leftist — a Paroubek-type ČSSD “with a human face” — whereas under Hašek’s leadership, it would become more refined, amicable and compromising, even with the current Nečas government, and willing to modernize its program.
When, following last year’s November elections, the ČSSD regional nomination conferences started, Hašek had the edge for a long time. With the exception of Sobotka’s ally David Rath, the Central Bohemian regional administrator, he gained the support of the other 11 regional administrators and many other significant ČSSD figures, including the deputy chairman Zdeněk Škromach, who has maintained friendly relationships with ex-premier Miloš Zeman. For many ČSSD members, the separation with Zeman is a painful topic, since his SPOZ cost the party more than four percent of the vote.
Unlike Sobotka, who during the presidential voting in February 2003 was involved in a mean trick on the part of the MPs against Zeman, many believe Hašek, would have a chance to attain his reconciliation within the party. For many ČSSD members, the separation with Zeman is a painful topic, since in last May’s elections Zeman’s Party of Citizens’ Rights (SPOZ) took from the Social Democrats more than four percent of the vote. Yet by the finale of the marathon of regional conferences Sobotka had caught up with Hašek in the number of nominations, which stood at seven-seven.
Although some of the delegates usually vote in line with their own opinions — and not according to the instructions of “their” regional conference — the candidates’ chances might truly be equal, if Sobotka’s and Hašek’s emissaries forced them to reach an agreement. In order to prevent the party’s rupture, whoever is named chairman should suggest his rival be first deputy chairman. Naturally, both candidates for the leadership have denied the existence of such an agreement.
Sensible and noble-minded victor?
In fact, Hašek and his allies have denied it with great vehemence. He would lose many votes if delegates thought he’d made an agreement with Sobotka behind their backs. The point is moot, as attempts at such an agreement appear to have failed. Consequently, voting at the Brno congress March 18–19 will not take place in the traditional manner. This time, there will be “live ammunition” and those with the best interests of the party at heart only hope that the victor will be sensible and broad-minded enough to accept someone from outside his own camp as ČSSD deputy chairmen. Failing which, intra-party dissent is set to erupt.
At the moment, Sobotka is considered to have a slightly greater chance of becoming leader. With regard to the pension reform and universal rise in prices that will result from the increased VAT, his uncompromisingly oppositional, rigorously left-wing style will most likely satisfy more delegates to the Brno congress. In addition, Sobotka allegedly agrees with getting rid of the controversial Rath — whom he does not envisage as becoming even a rank-and-file deputy chairman — which would result in Sobotka’s obtaining many votes from those who cannot stand the “Kraken.”
On the other hand, Hašek’s ability to act smoothly and reach compromises (a welcome characteristic in his positions as South Moravia regional administrator and Chairman of the Association of Regions) could be perceived by delegates as evidence of a lack of courage and competence to conduct an uncompromising battle with the right-wing governing coalition. Nevertheless, the 39-year-old Sobotka is six years older than Hašek and — when recalling Stanislav Gross’ scandals — a lot of delegates will think that one bad experience with a very young leader was enough and that Hašek can wait a few years to ascend to the party throne.